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Rules Without Repression
Your thoughts on Turning Red and stories about self-mastery
This week, I’m sharing your thoughts about Turning Red and teaching rules. Also, readers of this newsletter may be interested in the Sr. Prudence Allen reading group that Serena Sigillito is starting. I’ve signed up!
Previously, I shared Noah Millman’s analysis of Turning Red, and his argument that a story about puberty and sexuality can’t be one where our temptations are easily mastered. I was curious about your own stories of rules that are good for children, and acknowledge how hard self-mastery can be.
Gemma reframed the lessons of Turning Red:
Turning Red echoes Moana in having a heroine whose coming of age is less about repudiating what went before and more about returning to it. In both cases, this framing is perhaps partly demanded by respect for the underlying culture. Certainly, it would have been deeply culturally insensitive to have a Polynesian Disney heroine whose main arc was about breaking with her ancestors!
I really like it, as a trend, though. Finding your own way doesn’t have to be about finding a completely new way. Sometimes it can be about finding your connection with something much older.
This was definitely something I liked about Moana. It uses the beats of a “child-rebukes-adults” story to do something richer and more complicated. It’s a good counterexample to the tendency Ross is frustrated with below:
Respecting children means acknowledging that they struggle, too! They aren’t oracles for adults, and we shortchange them if we don’t teach them.
Mary suggested a book for small children:
My almost 2yo really likes Umbrella by Taro Yashima. Umbrella is the story of a little girl who gets an umbrella and boots for her 3rd birthday and is SO EXCITED but has to endure many days of nice weather before it finally rains. On a sunny day, she tells her mother she needs her umbrella because the sun bothers her eyes; on a windy day, she tells her mother she needs her umbrella because the wind bothers her eyes. Her mother says, "You know you can enjoy the sunshine better without the umbrella" and "the wind might blow your umbrella away" along with, "Let's save it for a rainy day." Finally, it rains, and the protagonist gets to use her umbrella. A savvy reader also notices that she matures as well. The book is wonderful for a number of other reasons, too, but to your point, the boundaries she gets from her mother are perfectly reasonable and help her understand how to live in the world, how to act in different kinds of weather.
I love the idea of this book! (And not just because we have to hide our two-year-old’s rain boots if we want her to wear normal shoes). I like that there’s nothing wrong with the umbrella, but we have to accept limits on good things to use them rightly and to make sure they don’t interfere with other goods.
Mary went on to share the way she thinks about how to help her daughter grow:
When I see my toddler daughter as my apprentice, that gives me a focus for how I discipline her and what boundaries I set. I want her to be able to live as an adult, which includes skills like making scrambled eggs and attitudes like respecting other people. So I think about what she can do now (physically & mentally) and what is the next step toward getting her to the goal.
Elizabeth offered a reading suggestion for older readers:
Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard is a Newbery Honor book that addresses some of these questions. Her main character, Kate, struggles a lot because she is clumsy and less attractive than her younger sister. She isn't ugly, but she can't fit into other people's ideas about feminine beauty, either. Kate's close relationship with her father, who appreciates her intelligence, can't make up for her mother's rejection. Over the course of the book, she does learn how to be less clumsy (through putting in a lot of hard work), but her ability to accept and enjoy her body is really centered in finding out that, even if some people will always misunderstand her, there are others who will value her for her character and analytical mind—the very things that have made it hard for her to fit in. Caring less about society's standards actually makes her more useful to the people around her.
I second the recommendation! The Perilous Gard was one of my favorite books I read in 2021.
Romola had a interesting read about why Mei’s panda is so manageable:
I think it was clever that, of all her family members, Mei had the smallest and least threatening panda. That metaphor worked for me! As someone raised by flawed but deeply loving parents, it makes sense that she may have some of her own emotional baggage, but that the baggage would be much smaller than that of her first-generation mom, or her immigrant grandmother.
The emotional and physical upheaval of puberty might change her in some fundamental ways, but she lacks the trauma of the other women in her family. She can engage with the messy part of herself and return to a steady baseline because she was raised with emotional and physical security that the other women were not. I really, really liked that the movie treated the choice of the older women in her family to hide their pandas empathetically, and didn't judge them for doing so.
So, in this reading, the rules have changed for Mei because of her parents’ good work. But that leaves them in a tough spot, since their hard-earned habits aren’t the right ones for her. (I discussed similar themes in Encanto here).
Or, to misuse John Adams:
I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain… and pandas.
Sometimes parenting well means making some of your scarcity- or fear-driven habits and traditions irrelevant to your children.